For the past week, the media has been buzzing about a private half hour meeting which took place between Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former President Bill Clinton on a private plane on a tarmac at a Phoenix airport on Monday June 27. Those familiar with the situation say that Mr. Clinton, who landed in Phoenix for a campaign event for Hillary Clinton, requested the meeting when he learned that Ms. Lynch’s plane was on the same tarmac as his. The meeting between the Attorney General and the former president and spouse of Hillary Clinton, the presumptive 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, has called into question the independence of the Justice Department which is currently conducting an investigation of Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server while serving as Secretary of State. The timing of the Clinton-Lynch encounter raised some eyebrows because it took place ahead of the Tuesday June 28th public release of the House Benghazi Committee’s report on the 2012 attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya which occurred during Mrs. Clinton’s tenure with The State Department.
The meeting between Lynch and former President Bill Clinton who appointed her to be a United States attorney in 1999 has created an incredibly bad moment for both the Justice Department and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. Lynch has stated publicly that the encounter with Mr. Clinton included no discussion of the email investigation and that the two discussed golf and grandchildren. Republicans and Democrats alike have described the meeting as very inappropriate. Even David Axelrod, a former senior advisor to President Barack Obama, said that while he believed the statements of both Ms. Lynch and Mr. Clinton that they had not discussed the investigation, he thought that it was “foolish to create such optics.”
Since Ms. Lynch is investigating Mrs. Clinton’s email server situation, it is highly likely that Mr. Clinton could be called as a witness. At a minimum, he would be considered a person of interest. Judicial Watch, the conservative legal watchdog group, has asked the Justice Department’s Inspector General to investigate the meeting. For her part, Lynch has stated that the email investigation is “being handled by career investigators and career agents who always follow the facts and the law.” Lynch has since acknowledged that her meeting with former President Bill Clinton could give people “another reason to have questions and concerns” and has stated that even though the meeting was a social encounter, she “certainly would not do it again”. She has also announced that she would accept whatever recommendations that the prosecutors and the FBI director make in the investigation of Mrs. Clinton’s personal email account.
The White House Spokesperson Josh Earnest has described the Hillary Clinton email investigation as being “shielded from any sort of political interference” and thinks that it is up to Lynch to decide what her role in the case should be. By contrast, Representative Steve Scalise (R. LA) has stated that Ms. Lynch should recuse herself and appoint a special prosecutor to handle the case. If Ms. Lynch does recuse herself, she would have no involvement whatsoever in the case. Consequently, she would not be able to offer an opinion as to whether to file charges against Mrs. Clinton. In the event of a recusal, the most likely candidate to handle the case would be the Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.
Again, this situation is a curious example of bad judgment for Loretta Lynch who had a reputation as being a tough prosecutor when she was employed with the U.S. Attorney’s office of Eastern New York. When she was in the process of going through the confirmation process to become Attorney General, she in part received the nod from Republicans because she was nominated from outside of the Washington inner circle and was perceived as being unlikely to politicize the office of the Attorney General. Her appointment was promoted as a departure from that of her predecessor Eric Holder, who in a number of instances intervened to reduce charges brought by either career prosecutors or the FBI.
Interestingly enough, Loretta Lynch was not above joking about the airport meeting in an appearance on Friday July 1 at the Aspen Ideas Festival. When moderator Jonathan Capeheart asked “What didn’t (former AG) Eric Holder tell you about this job?” She responded “Where the lock is on the plane door!” While Ms. Lynch’s response makes for a funny soundbite, it still rings inappropriate and implausible. It is as if she is trying to make the case that Bill Clinton barged onto her plane uninvited.
Unfortunately, an inappropriate meeting between the current Attorney General and a former president and spouse of the Democratic nominee for the presidency is not a laughing matter. On Saturday July 2, Hillary Clinton participated in a voluntary three-and-a-half-hour interview about her email account with the FBI at FBI headquarters in Washington D.C. For the moment, Loretta Lynch is sticking to her plans to accept the recommendations of the FBI and the prosecutors in the case. It will be interesting to see if she is pressured to recuse herself.
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